Restored Holocaust-era instruments make music in Louisville

Jeffrey Jamner reads from Elie Wiesel’s Night as Sara Callaway accompanies on the violin during the Oct. 22 Violins of Hope program at the Cathedral of the Assumption. (photo by Sarah Kelley)

One by one, as strands of string music filled the valted sanctuary, the “Ambassadors of Repair” proceeded down the aisle of the Cathedral of the Assumption, each carrying a violin.
The ambassadors were a diverse group – Christians, Jews, Muslims, children and adults, artists and activists.
The instruments they carried, like human Holocaust survivors, were themselves survivors of that time. And like their flesh-and-blood counterparts, they had stories to tell.
These 10 instruments, part of the Violins of Hope collection, were displayed on the altar of the cathedral this night, Oct. 22, during Repairing the World Through Music and Story: An Interfaith Evening of Healing and Hope.
It was one of 30 events, programs and concerts held for the Violins of Hope during their 10-day stay in Louisville, culminating in a grand performance Saturday, Oct. 26, by the Louisville Orchestra.
The Jewish Federation of Louisville and the Center for Interfaith Relations co-sponsored the evening, which was dedicated to the Jewish commandment of tikkun olam (repair the world). Violins also were part of the Oct. 24 Major Gifts program at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens (see photo gallery, page 15).
The Violins of Hope, string instruments that survived the Holocaust. Some were played in the ghettos and concentration camps. All tell unique stories of the people who played them and the inhumanity that could have destroyed them.
Now, restored by Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein, and his son, Avshi, the violins make music again, they travel the world have been played by some of the finest orchestras.
But Avshi Weinstein, who addressed the audience, told them their individual histories are just as powerful. In fact, “We believe the story is more important than the instrument.”
Interspersed between musical interludes on the violin and the kamancheh (a string instrument from the Middle East), adherents of the three major faiths told personal stories of pain and healing to the near-capacity audience.
Jeffrey Jamner, pianist and arts educator for the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and the son of Holocaust survivors, recounted two personal stories from his own family: one of the horrific fate of his uncle along a death march, the other an inspiring anecdote his mother told of erev Yom Kippur in Auschwitz, when the women in her barracks joined in the chanting of Kol Nidre … and the guards didn’t stop them.
Jamner also read a passage from Elie Wiesel’s Night as violinist Sara Callaway accompanied him, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, 2nd Movement.
Fred Whittaker, a Holocaust educator at St. Francis of Assisi School, recounted his own journey to understanding the Catholic’s own painful role in the Shoah, keeping alive for centuries false stories of Jews poisoning wells and killing God.
“The Holocaust exists painfully within the center of the Catholic faith,” he lamented.
But Whittaker also told the story of Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar, who sheltered Polish Jews in a monastery before the Nazis arrest him. At Auschwitz, “he prayed with the dying and gave away his meager rations” before volunteering to die by starvation in place of another inmate.
Nasra Hussein, an 18-year-old Muslim, born in Kenya, the daughter of Somali Bantu parents, shared her own story of growing up in Louisville amid “struggles of personal identity and kinship” that existed between Africans and African Americans.
Hussein compared overcoming the opinion’s held by each group of the other to “challenging the norm of a single story.”
Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport, who introduced the tikkun olam theme, recounted the silence that existed among survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust after the war. Eventually, he said survivors and witnesses alike broke their silence; the truth came out. Healing began.
“We must break the silence to build a world of hope,” Rapport said.
The principal performer of the evening was Johnny Gandelsman, playing the processional music as the instruments entered the hall as well as selections from contemporary composers.
But another musician, Jon Silpayamanant, playing the kamancheh, performed a piece by , a 19th-20th century Jewish Ottoman composer. Silpayamanant performs with a group called Transito, which focuses on the music of Sephardic Jews.
The Ambassadors of Repair, those given the honor of carrying the violins into the sanctuary, Matt Gold Goldberg, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Kendra Foster, a member of the Center for Interfaith Relations board; Dr. Muhammad Babar, president of Muslim Americans for Compassion; Bob Owings, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Assumption; Rafael Shah-Bozeman, a fifth grader and Suzuki violin student; Katie Quinn, an eighth grader at St. Francis of Assisi and a Shoah studies student; Elana Berger, a musician and student at Floyd Central High School and a member of its symphony orchestra; Mohammed Al-Mosawi, a UofL student whose high school Holocaust studies created an awareness “shared experience” with his parents – Iraqi refugees; Kenneth “KJ” Wilson Jr., a violin student since age 3 and a UofL music and sociology student; Scott Koloms, a leader in the conscious business movement and founder of Canopy, which strives for good business in Kentucky.


  1. Jeff, thanks for sharing this moving article. I’m so glad we were able to experience “Violins of Hope” and all the history and hope it offered. As usual, you have been busy! Thanks again for being YOU! Ann Adamek

  2. Beautiful. It is so good to see so many of my fellow beings with different beliefs able to connect in such a meaningful way.

Leave a Reply